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Sunday, June 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Lamentations 4

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-22



Lamentations 4:1

How is the gold become dim!… the stones of the sanctuary, etc. "Alas for the sad sights of the capture of Jerusalem! The most fine gold has lost its brilliance now that the fire of Nebuzar-adan (2 Kings 25:9) has passed over it, and the precious stones, consecrated to Jehovah, have been cast out into the open street!" Not that the latter part of this description can have corresponded to literal fact. None of the hallowed jewels would have been treated with such indifference. The expression must be as figurative as the parallel one, "to cast pearls before swine," in Matthew 7:6. The precious stones are the "sons of Zion," who are compared to "fine gold" in Matthew 7:2, precisely as they are in Zechariah 9:16 (comp. Zechariah 9:13," Thy sons, O Zion") to "the stones of a crown." They are called "stones of the sanctuary," in allusion, perhaps, to the precious stones employed in the decoration of the temple according to 1 Chronicles 29:2 and 2 Chronicles 3:6. But we may also translate hallowed stones, which better suits the figurative use of the phrase. Those, however, who adopt the literal interpretation, explain "the stones of the sanctuary" of the hewn stones of the fabric of the temple, which are described as "costly" in 1 Kings 5:17. But how can even a poet have represented the enemy as carrying these stones out and throwing them down in the street? On the other hand, in an earlier lamentation we are expressly told that the young children "fainted for hunger in the top of every street" (Lamentations 2:19).

Lamentations 4:2

The precious sons of Zion; i.e. not merely the nobility, but the people of Judah in general. It is needless (as the literal interpreters of Lamentations 4:1 are compelled to do) to alter b'ne (sons) into bātte (houses) or 'abne (stones). The comparison of men to potters' vessels is familiar to the Hebrew writers (comp. Isaiah 22:24; Isaiah 45:9).

Lamentations 4:3

The sea monsters; rather, the jackals (tannin, the Aramaic form of the plural for tannim). Cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness. So in Job (Job 39:14-16) it is said of the ostrich that she "leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmeth them in dust, and forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may break them. She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers." The description is literally true, if we add a detail not mentioned by the sacred poet. The eggs destined for hatching are deposited in a nest hole scratched in the sand, but there are other eggs laid, not in the sand, but near it, to all appearance forsaken. These eggs, however, are not exposed in simple stupidity, though they do often fall victims to violence. "They are intended for the nourishment of the newly hatched young ones, which in barren districts would at first find difficulty in procuring food".

Lamentations 4:4

Breaketh it unto them. The Jewish bread, consisting of round or oval cakes.

Lamentations 4:5

They that did feed delicately, etc. i.e. luxuriously. The rendering has been disputed, but without sufficient ground. "They that did eat at dainties," i.e. pink at their dainty food, is forced. The Aramaic mark of the accusative need not surprise us in Lamentations (comp. Jeremiah 40:2). Brought up in scarlet; rather, borne upon scarlet; i.e. resting upon scarlet-covered couches. The poet speaks of adults, not of children.

Lamentations 4:6

The punishment of the iniquity... the punishment of the sin. This is a possible rendering (see Genesis 4:13; Zechariah 14:19), but the renderings, "the iniquity," "the sin? are preferable, and yield a finer meaning, viz. that the punishment having been so severe, the guilt must have been in proportion. And no hands stayed on her. To make the picture of sudden destruction more vivid, the poet alludes to the ordinary circumstances of the capture of a city, the "hands" of a fierce soldiery ever "whirling" a destroying sword. Comp. "the swinging of the hand of Jehovah Sabaoth, which he swingeth against it" (Isaiah 19:16).

Lamentations 4:7

Her Nazarites; rather, her eminent ones (just as Joseph is called n'zir ekhav,"eminent among his brethren"). The rendering of the Authorized Version is lexically possible, but is intrinsically improbable. The Nazarites constituted too small a portion of the Jewish people to receive so prominent a place in the elegy. Rubies; rather, corals. Their polishing was of sapphire; literally, their shape was (like) a sapphire. But the point in which the sapphire is compared to the bodies of the princes is evidently not the outline of its form, but its gleaming brilliant appearance; so that the Authorized Version is substantially correct.

Lamentations 4:8

Their visage is blacker than a coal; rather, their appearance is darker than blackness—one of the hyperboles which seem to indicate that the poem was not written at the very moment of the calamity described (comp. Job 30:30). Not known in the streets. Another point of contact with the Book of Job (Job 2:12). Their skin, etc. Again we must compare the lamentations of Job (Job 19:20; Job 30:30). Psalms 102:5 may also be quoted; for the second half of the verse is toe short unless we insert "to my skin" before "to my flesh."

Lamentations 4:9

The miserable condition just now described maintains a sad pre-eminence even when compared with the fate of the slain in battle. And why! For these pine away (literally, melt away), stricken through (with the pangs of hunger). The Authorized Version takes the subject of the second half of the verse to be the famished. But it is, perhaps, more natural to take it to be those wounded in a battle, to whom the expression, "stricken through," is actually applied in ch. 37:10; 51:4. In this case the line had better be rendered thus: For those pine away, stricken through, leaving the fruits of the field (which they no longer need). The word rendered "pine away" would be particularly applicable to those who perished from loss of blood.

Lamentations 4:10

The pitiful women. Strange contrast between the compassionate nature of woman (comp. Isaiah 49:15) and the dread horrors of this moral as well as physical catastrophe (comp. note on Lamentations 2:20).

Lamentations 4:11

Hath accomplished means here, not "hath finished," but "hath poured out in full measure," as in the song of Moses Jehovah declares that he will "spend his arrows upon them"—the Hebrew verb is the same as here (Deuteronomy 32:23). To show the completeness of Zion's ruin it is compared to a fire which hath devoured the (very) foundations thereof.

Lamentations 4:12

The kings of the earth, etc. And yet Jerusalem had been taken twice before its capture by Nebuchadnezzar (see 1 Kings 14:26; 2Ki 14:1-29 :131. How is the language of the second part to be accounted for? It will help us to an answer if we observe that the later Jews seem to have acquired an exorbitant confidence in their national future ever since the Book of Deuteronomy had become as it were canonical in the reign of Josiah. "The temple of Jehovah" was ever in their mouths (Jeremiah 7:9), and the strong outward regard paid to the directions of the Law seemed to them to justify their believing in the fulfilment of its promises. And, in fact, the grand deliverance of Jerusalem in the reign of Hezekiah might, even without this misunderstanding of Deuteronomy, have inspired a firm faith in the security of Jerusalem. A sacred poet had already, on the occasion of that deliverance, declared of the holy city that "God upholdeth the same forever" (Psalms 48:8), and also (in verses 4, 5) used the same hyperbole as the author of this lamentation to express the wide reaching interest felt in the fortunes of Jerusalem.

Lamentations 4:13

For the sins of her prophets, etc. Instead of connecting this verse by a comma with the following, we should rather view it as a unit in itself, and understand at the beginning, "All this hath happened" The sins of the prophets and priests are mentioned together by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 6:13; Jeremiah 23:11), as well as by Isaiah (Isaiah 28:7). But we are nowhere else told that the spiritual leaders of the people, in these closing years of the Jewish state, were guilty of shedding innocent blood, unless this is to be inferred from the incident related in Jeremiah 26:7, etc.

Lamentations 4:14

They; i.e. the prophets and priests. Wandered as blind men. The leaders of the people are blinded by ignorance, for they know not the only true way of averting calamity, and by passion, for they have not that "eye" of the soul (Matthew 6:22, Matthew 6:23) which alone enables a man to see the good and the right course for himself individually, The" wandering," or, rather, "staggering" (comp. Psalms 107:27, Authorized Version), however, may also refer to the panic stricken condition of those self. deceived deceivers when overtaken by God's punishment; comp. "wine of reeling" (Authorized Version, "astonishment"), Psalms 60:3; also the prophecies in Deuteronomy 28:28, Deuteronomy 28:29; Jeremiah 23:12. The doubt is whether "have wandered" refers to some period before the final catastrophe, or to the consternation produced by that awful surprise. The latter view seems the more probable. They have polluted themselves, etc. Their acts of violence have been continued to the very end of their term of power. Their garments are still stained with blood when the summons to depart into exile reaches them.

Lamentations 4:15

They cried unto them, etc. As they leave the city they are pursued by the maledictions of those whom they have oppressed. It is unclean. The cry with which the leper was directed to warn off passengers, lest they should become infected (Leviticus 13:45). There may be an allusion to this, but, though commonly accepted, the view is not certain, as the" leper" in the present case is not the person who raises the cry, but those who meet him. When they fled away and wandered. The clause is difficult. If the text is correct, Keil's explanation may perhaps pass, "When they fled away, (there) also they wandered," alluding to the "wandering" ascribed to them with a somewhat different shade of meaning in the preceding verso. In any case there ought to be a fuller stop than a comma after "touch not," which words close the first of the two parallel lines of which the verse consists. But very probably "when" (Hebrew, ki) is an intrusion, and we should begin the second line thus: "They fled, they also wandered about." They said among the heathen, etc. Even in their place of exile they found no rest (comp. Deuteronomy 28:65). This is better than understanding "the heathen" (literally, the nations) to mean "the Chaldean army," and the place of sojourn prohibited to be Jerusalem.

Lamentations 4:16

Hath divided them; i.e. hath scattered them, like "l will divide them in Jacob" (Genesis 49:7).

Lamentations 4:17

As for us, our eyes, etc.; rather (correcting the reading of the first word), Our eyes were still wasting away (as we looked) for our help in vain. To the very last the Jews leaned on "that broken reed," Egypt (Isaiah 36:6); how vain that hope would be Jeremiah had already told them (Jeremiah 37:7, Jeremiah 37:8). In our watching; i.e. earnestly and continually; or, on our watchtower.

Lamentations 4:18

They hunt our steps, etc. Realistic attempts to explain this line have not been wanting, but seem unsuccessful. The Chaldeans were either within the city or without. If within, they would not need literally to "hunt the steps" of the Jews; if without, they had not war engines adequate to shooting the inhabitants at some distance. Probably the expressions are metaphorical; they are similar to those used in Lamentations 3:52, immediately after which we meet with such a purely poetical phrase as, "They have cut off my life in the pit [Authorized Version, 'dungeon'], and cast a stone upon me" (see note on Lamentations 3:52-56).

Lamentations 4:19

Swifter than the eagles of the heaven. Jeremiah, or his imitator, repeats the figure which occurs in Jeremiah 4:13. There is probably no special reference to the circumstances of the capture of Zedekiah (Jeremiah 39:4, Jeremiah 39:5); the escape of many fugitives would be similarly cut off.

Lamentations 4:20

The breath of our nostrils. The theocratic king was the direct representative of the people with Jehovah, and to him the promises of 2 Samuel 7:1-29. were conveyed. He was also, in a sense, the representative of Jehovah with the people. His throne was "the throne of Jehovah" (1 Chronicles 29:23). A similar conception of the king was generally prevalent in antiquity. Most of all among the Egyptians; but, even in imperial Rome, we find Seneca ('De Clementia,' 2 Samuel 1:4, quoted by Archbishop Seeker, in Blayney) declaring, "Ille (Princeps) est spiritus vitalis, quem haec tot millia (civium) trahunt." For the Jewish, or Old Testament, conception, see Psalms 28:8, where "his people" and "his anointed" are used almost synonymously. Was taken in their pits. A figure from hunting (comp. Lamentations 1:13; Psalms 7:15). The fate of Zedekiah is referred to. Among the heathen; better, among the nations. The rendering of the Authorized Version suggests that the Jews hoped to preserve at least a qualified independence under their own king, even after their captivity.

Lamentations 4:21

Rejoice and be glad. An ironical address to Edom, who is bidden to enjoy her malicious triumph, but warned that it will be but short lived. How ungenerously the Edomites behaved at the fall of Jerusalem we are repeatedly told (see on Jeremiah 49:7). In the land of Uz. As to the situation of Uz, see on Jeremiah 25:20. The cup; one of Jeremiah's images (see Jeremiah 25:15).

Lamentations 4:22

The punishment of thine iniquity or, thy guilt (see on Lamentations 4:6). The prophet speaks with the confidence of faith, and sees the guilt wiped away, and the danger of a future captivity removed by the purification which the Jewish national character has undergone. He will discover thy sins. God is said to "cover over" sins when he remits their punishment, and to "discover" them when he punishes them (comp. Job 20:27, Job 20:28).


Lamentations 4:1, Lamentations 4:2

Fine gold dimmed.

Gold is a precious metal, partly because it is less liable to corrode than other metals. It will not rust like iron nor even tarnish like silver. For fine gold to be dimmed is for it to undergo exceptionally severe treatment. Such was the treatment of the gold of the temple after the Chaldean siege of Jerusalem. Josephus describes how the gold glittered on the temple walls in his day; and doubtless the effect of the earlier temple's splendour must have been similarly dazzling. But when covered with the dust of a ruined city, smoked with its fires, neglected and defiled, this fine gold would lose its brilliancy. In the dimming of the brightness of the temple mourning patriots saw an illustration of the shame that had come over the nation, and especially of the degradation of the noblest of the citizens of Jerusalem. But whenever rich gifts and graces of God are corrupted we may echo the same lament, "How is the gold become dim!"

I. FINE GOLD IS DIMMED WHEN NOBLE GIFTS OF NATURE ARE PUT TO BASE USES. Nature is wealthy with precious things that in themselves and in the eye of God are purely good. The beauty of earth and sea, the wonder of natural forces, the delicate organizations of plant and animal, all things created by the hand of God, are fine and fair and worthy. And these things are given us as our heritage. Science opens to our use many a secret treasure house. Art and manufactures result from the appropriation of natural resources. But how often are they degraded by being turned to the service of evil, in constructing instruments of war, in ministering to luxurious self-indulgence, in pampering intemperate appetites, etc.!

II. FINE GOLD IS DIMMED WHEN RARE TALENTS ARE WASTED OR ABUSED. Intellectual ability, artistic taste, gifts for music, philosophy or science, stored knowledge, refined culture, natural genius, and educational acquisitions are like fine gold. Yet this gold may be dimmed:

1. When the gifts and acquirements are idly neglected. Noble promises disappoint the beholder with a miserable failure. Even so coarse a sin as drunkenness has its victims among the sons of genius. When sensuality, sordid love of money, self-satisfied conventionality, feverish worldly ambition, or any other low pursuit draws the soul away from the high vocation marked out for it by its own peculiar gifts; the fine gold is dimmed.

2. When the talents are prostituted to low ends. The gold may be used, but, instead of adorning a temple, it decorates a voluptuary's banquet hall. The evil use of it degrades the precious metal. Great endowments are too often similarly degraded. They are used for ill. The painter, unlike Fra Angelico, who, working on his knees and for God, made the exercise of his art an act of worship, forsakes his ideal to please the low tastes of his patrons. The writer neglects truth to flatter the popular cries of the day. The philosophic genius absorbs his mental gifts in mercenary calculations. Thus the fine gold is dimmed.

III. FINE GOLD IS DIMMED WHEN YOUTH IS ILL SPENT. For youth is the golden age of life. If not in liberty and ease, for the yoke must then be fitted to the shoulders, still, in freshness, vigour, and opportunity, it is like the morning going forth in its strength, bright as gold. But when the promise of childhood is belied by the performance of manhood, how is the fine gold become dim! Young men who have not yet lost the bloom of first innocence should beware of the fatal temptations which threaten to cast the beauty and purity of their souls into the mire. We all have an opportunity to begin life well. Some fine gold is then bestowed upon every soul. Let us see to it in these early years that the treasure of a good conscience before God end man is not lost.

IV. FINE GOLD IS DIMMED WHEN A CHRISTIAN FALLS INTO SIN. The graces of the spiritual life are as finest gold. God counts his people as his jewels (Ma Lamentations 3:17). Rare, and bright, and beautiful, glorious and golden in the sunlight of God's love, is the character of true saintliness. There is no beauty comparable to the beauty of holiness. But alas I when the saint trails his white robe in the foul ways of sin and casts the pearls that adorn him to the swine, how is all the glory and beauty degraded! Nothing more repulsive than a fine garment besmirched with filth; it is far worse than the beggar's rags, to which dirt seems natural The fallen Christian defiles himself and dims his gold and brings shame on the Name of Christ by his sin.

V. FINE GOLD IS DIMMED WHEN THE CHURCH IS CORRUPTED. Like Jerusalem of old, the bride of the Lamb should be all-glorious with grace and goodness. The golden perfection of humanity should characterize this society and make it a worthy kingdom of heaven upon earth. But how often has the fine gold been dimmed, in pagan additions to primitive Christianity, in superstitions of the dark ages, in cruelties and immoralities of the Middle Ages, in Catholic prejudice and Protestant bitterness, in the arid rationalism of Germany and the worldly conventionalism of England!

Lamentations 4:3, Lamentations 4:4

The violation of maternal instincts.


1. Widespread. They are shared by the lower animals as well as by human beings. The fiercest monsters are careful of their cubs. The most stupid know how to tend and rear their offspring. Roaming jackals of the desert have their lairs where they give suck to their little ones. The varied fields of animal life all bear evidence to this wonderful instinct. It is seen among all races of men. Brutal degraded classes, untrained savages, fierce warlike people, all possess it.

2. Deep-seated. These instincts are far deeper than any merely social tendency. They are strong and vital as appetites. The mother feels for her child as for part of herself. Many desires and habits will be abandoned before these instincts will fail. They outlive virtue and principle and dwell still in the vicious.


1. In proportion to the profound and almost universal character of these instincts is the outrage on nature itself that the violation of them involves. We judge of an influence by the forces it has to overcome. It must be very strong if it can conquer great resistance. To conquer such resistance as that offered by the maternal instincts the evil influence must be powerful indeed. Therefore the violation of these instincts must be a proof of a most exceptionally energetic force of evil. Lady Macbeth must have sold herself to a very demon of ambition before she could unsex herself enough to say—

"I have given suck, and know
How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn, etc."

2. Moreover, the fatal effect of the violation of maternal instincts is another proof of the terrible evils of the corruption that can make it possible. These instincts are essential to the very continuance of life on our globe. Creatures that come into the world with so much feebleness as is the case with human beings would perish were they not protected in infancy by the wonderful passionate care of maternity.

III. THAT MUST BE A FRIGHTFUL CALAMITY WHICH CAN LEAD TO THE VIOLATION OF MATERNAL INSTINCTS. Such was the calamity of the siege of Jerusalem. Then hunger and despair led parents to neglect their children. The worst mad violation of maternal instincts had been anticipated in a siege of Samaria, when a mother devoured her own child (2 Kings 6:24-29). Such things have been done since. They force us to realize the barbarous cruelty of war which some would hide beneath its foolish pomp and pageantry. They also make us see the evil of extreme misery. There is a point beyond which suffering ceases to be beneficial. It then becomes a positive curse. It tears up the very roots of the most precious growths of nature. It drives to worse moral degradation than luxury tempts to, though in the eyes of a merciful God the guilt cannot be regarded with so much wrath where the misery that urges to it is so pitiable. Therefore it should be the work of the Christian philanthropist to remove physical wretchedness, not only for its own sake, but also as one of the first means for preventing crime and vice.

Lamentations 4:5

Reverses of fortune.

I. REVERSES OF FORTUNE ARE NOT UNCOMMON. It is not only in the rare case of a protracted siege, when at last rich and poor both suffer from the severities of famine, that we may see some who once fed delicately wandering desolate in the street. All who have gone down into the haunts of the very poor and have investigated the severest cases of wretchedness know how many of the most abject paupers have enjoyed wealth and luxury in former years. Even in an orderly society such as our own the number of these violent reverses of fortune is appalling. Let no one boast of his assured comfort.

II. REVERSES OF FORTUNE ARE MOST PAINFUL. We rarely miss what we have never known. There is, therefore, much mitigation to the hardness of the lot of those who are born in the most miserable circumstances, arising from the fact that they have never experienced anything better. But the greatest distress is in coming down from affluence, comfort, and honour to poverty, distress, and shame.

III. REVERSES OF FORTUNE ARE FREQUENTLY MERITED. We must beware of the error of Job's friends. The innocent may and often do suffer from a most grievous succession of calamities. Still, those three men had much to say for their view. Their mistake was in making it universal in its application. It is rarely that the seed of the righteous man has to beg for bread. Good men may have a humble lot and sometimes may have to suffer considerable loss. But usually the greatest degradation and misery follows the folly or sin of the sufferer. Probably the one vice of intemperance is the cause of more than half the cases of the very worst reverses of fortune.

IV. REVERSES OF FORTUNE SHOULD EXCITE PECULIAR COMMISERATION. The happy and prosperous should look out for such cases. The most sad among them are often the hardest to find. They hide in shame and misery. Especially when the degradation is moral it becomes a Christian work to seek to restore the fallen. The Son of man came, not so much to preserve the prosperous nor to raise those who had never known better things, as to seek and to save the lost sheep of the house of Israel, i.e. those who had once been privileged and had fallen from their first estate.

V. REVERSES OF FORTUNE DO NOT JUSTIFY LOSS OF FAITH IN GOD. They tempt men that way. "Curse God, and die," a voice whispers into the ear of the despairing man. But it is the voice of folly as well as of sin. For:

1. We must expect to be governed in many mysteries by the great and all-wise God. It may be rational to disbelieve in the existence of God; but it cannot be rational to believe that he is, and yet to doubt his wisdom or goodness.

2. The reverse is often due to the fault of the sufferer.

3. It may be overruled for his good.

VI. REVERSES OF FORTUNE MAY BE REVERSED. So was it in Job's case; the end of the patriarch's life was even brighter than the beginning of it.

1. This may happen on earth. In suffering we are too ready to lose heart. We paint the future in dark shades manufactured solely from present experiences. But there are more resources in the world than we dream of.

2. It will surely come in the next world to all who trust in God. Then the second reverse will be as joyous as the first was miserable. For the same principle will apply in both cases, and the great change will heighten the sense of the new condition. Happy are they who, in Christ, though suffering and despised, are looking forward to this glorious reverse of their present dark fortunes.

Lamentations 4:12

Incredible calamities.

Not only had Jerusalem believed herself invincible, But she had been so long preserved in safety and so signally delivered in extreme danger, as in the Assyrian invasion when Hezekiah was king, that neighbouring nations had come to look upon her as secure from harm, and to regard such calamities as those which came in the wake of the Chaldean invasion as incredible. There are men whose condition in the eyes of the world is as safe as that of Jerusalem was to the kings of the earth, and who nevertheless may fall into a greater ruin than the overthrow of Jerusalem.


1. Self-confidence. Jerusalem believed herself to be safe. Proud in the favour of Heaven, she scorned to fear danger. This attitude of assurance impressed her neighbours. They thought there must be good ground for such loud bravado, or they did not think but simply acquiesced in the opinion of herself which the boastful city published abroad. Thus does the world often take men at their own estimates of themselves, not troubling to test these partial verdicts.

2. Previous security. Jerusalem seemed to bear a charmed life. She had braved many a fierce storm. The enemy had swept up to her very gates. But there they had been flung back by mysterious interventions of Providence. So the world believes in the prosperity of the prosperous. She indolently takes for granted that what has been will be.


1. Insufficient evidence. The grounds of this notion are irrational. It is foolish to take people at their self-valuation; but it is more foolish for the people thus accepted to take the popular voice, which is only the echo of their own vanity, as a justification for it. And when the past security engenders confidence, they who do not know what subsequent changes of circumstances have taken place cannot reasonably give security for its continuance.

2. Ignorance of the real sources of prosperity and danger. The heathen kings knew not the God of Israel. They knew nothing of the secret of Jerusalem's safety in the days of her prosperity, nor did they see the sure presages of her ruin, Worldly men, who do not understand wherein the safety of a soul consists, are poor judges of that soul's prospects.

III. THE DANGER OF POPULAR DISBELIEF IN APPROACHING CALAMITY. Though it is foolish it is influential, because it is readily accepted as an agreeable solace to fear. Thus Jerusalem was deluded by the flattery of her neighbours. When there is a general opinion that all is well it is hard for individual souls to see and feel their danger. In a condition of worldly ease the prophet of repentance is opposed by the mocking indifference of popular opinion, and souls are lulled to sleep with a hollow security that says, "Peace, peace," when there is no peace. The antidote to this dangerous anodyne of conscience must be sought in the Word of God, which speaks of judgment, and warns us to flee from the wrath to come for refuge where only safety can be found, not in the flattery of our neighbours, but at the cross of Christ.

Lamentations 4:14


The prophets and priests are so dismayed that they wander through the streets of Jerusalem like blind men; No doubt the confused movement of these men as they run to and fro, not knowing whither to turn, is the chief idea in the mind of the poet. But the image of blindness by which he illustrates it is suggestive of the secret of their confusion. They were, indeed, as blind men because spiritual blindness had seized on them.

I. THE MEN WHO WERE BLINDED. Priests and prophets.

1. Blindness would be least excusable in these men. They were not like the illiterate, nor even like the mass of the laity. Priests were trained in traditional lore, and prophets had access to new fountains of truth.

2. Blindness would be most dangerous in these men. They assumed the position of "men of light and leading." The world was made to believe that whoever else might be in darkness these teachers were fully illuminated. Their blindness was most fatal because they were "blind leaders of the blind"

II. THE CHARACTER OF THEIR BLINDNESS. It was spiritual. These teachers had all their senses and faculties. They could see the standards and chariots and hosts of the invader, They could measure his forces and calculate his movements. They had intellectual as well as physical eyesight. But they could not see the hand of God in the whole transaction. They failed to discern that moral condition of the nation which had called the judgment of Heaven down upon its head. They were quite at sea as to the future. They did not understand the Divine purpose of the chastisement; and they were helpless when called upon to guide their followers in the great emergency. When the wolf broke into the fold the shepherds were hopelessly confounded. So must it be with all unworthy guides. The moment of need will discover their worthlessness.

III. THE CAUSE OF THIS BLINDNESS. Sin (see Lamentations 4:13). Priests and prophets had shed the blood of the just. Gross abuse of power and tyrannous violence were iniquities enough to blunt the spiritual vision of the most gifted. This is one of the most terrible fruits of sin. It always tends to deaden conscience and darken the eye of the soul. We must do right if we would see truth. It is not only sensuality, passion, and gross worldliness that debase the soul beyond the power of perceiving higher things, but more spiritual sins—pride, bigotry, self-will, etc.—also blind it. Purity of heart is essential to clearness of vision.

IV. THE EFFECT OF THIS BLINDNESS. "They wandered as blind men in the streets." Darkness of vision leads to confusion in action. We must see clearly that we may walk straightly. A confused conscience will make an uncertain will. Practical truth is not merely a subject for discussion in the seclusion of the study. It is a necessary chart to guide our course by. When the seeing and teaching of this is at fault all life is thrown into helpless disorder.

V. THE CUBE FOR THIS BLINDNESS. This is not suggested here. It is not the function of Lamentations to console and heal. But there is a remedy. For Christ came to "open the blind eyes" (Isaiah 42:7). He is "the Light of the world," and all who follow him shall not walk m darkness, but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12).

Lamentations 4:15


So horrible is the condition of Jerusalem after the siege that men regard the holy city as an unclean place, like a haunt of lepers or an abode of. the dead. They cry, "Go aside! Unclean! Go aside! go aside!" as they would to one who incautiously approached too near to one of these banned spots. The dread of contamination is a natural testimony to the instinct for purity; but it is often sadly perverted, for while no feeling should be more related to truth and fact, it happens that no feeling is more subject to artificial, conventional regulations. We need to inquire what are the true causes of contamination and how real contamination may be avoided.

I. WHAT ARE THE TRUE CAUSES OF CONTAMINATION? It is uncleanness that defiles. The primitive notion of uncleanness is connected with material things—the dirt that soils a garment, etc. Then disease which is loathsome and offensive, and death with its attendant corruption, are felt to be defiling. But to the soul true defilement can only come from what is morally impure. As Christ teaches, it is internal not external (Luke 11:38-40). Jerusalem, when in her prosperity she abandoned herself to idolatry and immorality, was more unclean than when she lay in ashes a charnel house of slaughtered citizens. Yet no man cried, "Unclean!" in the prosperous times. The degradation was thought to be defiling, while the sin which led to it was connived at. This mistake is common in various forms. The criminal with the brand of punishment upon him is shunned, while the far more vicious man who has contrived to keep himself safe is courted. Parents fear the corruption of manners which their children may contract by mingling with social inferiors, and yet permit them to mix with far more corrupt society if only the rank of it be higher than their own. Many people lock with contempt on certain kinds of honest business, who will engage in pursuits of very questionable morality without compunction. Thus some regard trade as degrading and betting as gentlemanly. They would be ashamed to be connected with a shop; they have no shame in their connection with the turf. We want a healthier conscience, that will declare no honest pursuit to be dishonourable and no immoral one to be respectable simply because patronized by rank and fashion.

II. HOW IS REAL CONTAMINATION TO BE AVOIDED? Granted that we know what things are defiling and can distinguish them from the objects of conventional ostracism; how are we to behave ourselves in regard to the unclean things? We are to avoid contact with them. But here a difficult question arises. As Christians we are to be the salt of the earth. It is our mission to purify the impure. But if we shun it, how can we change it? If we neglect politics because we see politicians to be acting dishonourably, and business because we wish to avoid tricks of trade, and society because we must escape the corrupting influences of unwholesome amusements and scandalous conversation, shall we not be handing over politics, business, and society to the unchecked influence of evil? The answer to this question seems to be that the departure must be in spirit and from the spirit of those things that are degrading. We are not to flee bodily. We may do so in vain. For the corruption of the world may pursue the hermit to his cell and torment his mind with evil imaginations in the desert. But if we forsake all sympathy with the unclean our soul cannot be touched by it. Thus Christ ate and drank with publicans and sinners and passed through their foul atmosphere without defilement. Especially if the object is to do good we may be sure that the consciousness of a mission and the cleansing influence of Christian charity will prevent contamination. Thus a pure minded Christian woman is able to go into the haunts of vice on an errand of mercy and return scatheless as the snowdrop that lifts its head from the impure soil.

Lamentations 4:22

The end of punishment.

Here is a gleam of prophetic hope. From doleful lamentations the poet is able to look forward and see the end of the sad desolation of Jerusalem.

I. PUNISHMENT HAS AN END. Nothing is everlasting but God, and the life which God gives and the goodness of that life. Evil, darkness, pain, and death are temporal phases of being. This may seem to many an unjustifiably dogmatic statement. Text for text we may find passages of Scripture to support it and to contradict it. It is when we take into account the drift of the whole Word of God, the character of God therein revealed and the purposes of punishment and of all dark facts of providence as far as these purposes are made known to us, that we are led more and more to believe in the victory and duration of the blessed and the overthrow and cessation of the evil phases of experience.

II. THE END OF PUNISHMENT IS DETERMINED BY ITS OBJECT. What is the object of punishment? This may be manifold.

1. It is not the satisfaction of vengeance in One who is wronged. For

(1) such a satisfaction could only be required by sinful human passion, never by the good will of God; and

(2) if such a satisfaction were required, it would not be punishment, which is quite another thing.

2. It is partly the deterring of possible offenders. In so far as law must be vindicated for the sake of its future observance the punishment must be severe, but not beyond that point.

3. It is chiefly for the restoration of the offender. This was the reason given for the terrible calamities that overwhelmed the guilty city of Jerusalem. Human punishment under criminal laws is so far a failure that the primary end of it is rarely achieved. But with God's all-wise government it is held in view and mainly aimed at. Therefore the punishment is called "chastisement." What is required of chastisement is that it should be sufficient. For it to be endless would be to defeat its object. Moreover, it does not require to be measured by the offence alone. Even if it were so measured it need not be everlasting, since no finite being can commit an infinite sin. But it is measured by the change required to be wrought in the guilty person.

III. THE PROSPECT OF THE END OF PUNISHMENT SHOULD HELP US TO BEAR IT. God sends chastisement on earth. And he does not except any from it—at all events he does not except Christians, for "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth." If there were no hope to the chastised, and punishment were a sign of being cast off forever by God, we might well sit down in sullen despair. But there is encouragement in the thought that it is temporary, is working our good, and may be lightened and shortened by prompt repentance and patient submission.

IV. THE GUILTY AGENTS OF PUNISHMENT WILL BE PUNISHED. Edom had triumphed over Jerusalem. Edom was to have her sin discovered and punished when Jerusalem was restored. So Babylon's doom was promised (Isaiah 13:1-22.). Satan, the great enemy of souls, may be used as an instrument for our chastisement. But his day of doom is drawing near. Then he can torment us no more.

V. CHRIST PUTS AN END TO PUNISHMENT. It is not necessary that we should endure our punishment to the end. If we had to do so where would the end be? The awful prospect would shut out all view of any end, whatever we might reason about its far off certainty. But Christ has accomplished for us by his suffering and sacrifice a work of redemption which will save with full, free, and immediate pardon all who repent and trust in him.


Lamentations 4:1

The gold dimmed.

Present adversity brings to mind, by force of contrast, the prosperity of bygone days. The Hebrew prophet of sorrow might well recall the golden days of old.

"A poet's crown of sorrow is remembering happier things."

His touching and poetic language affords—

I. A LESSON OF HUMAN MUTABILITY. The exclamation reminds us of those oft-quoted words, Ilium fuit! Troy was, but is no more! The proudest cities have crumbled into ruins, the most splendid palaces have mouldered into dust.

II. A LESSON WHAT PRECIOUS THINGS MAY TURN TO VILE. The homes of kings, priests, and prophets, were possessed by the brutal soldiery; the city of David and Solomon resounded with the ferocious cry of the Chaldeans. Sin can bring the brightest and the most glorious of human societies and institutions into decay and contempt.

III. A LESSON THAT SACRED THINGS MAY BE PROFANED. "The stones of the sanctuary" were flung about. The very temple of Jehovah became a ruin, the sacred solemnities came to an end, and the voice of the priests and the Levites ceased in the precincts. Sin can rust even the fine gold.

IV. A LESSON OF THE UNSPARING ENMITY OF MAN. The Chaldeans were not deterred by any consideration from carrying out their wrath to the bitterest extremity. The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. Vae victis! is an old cry.

V. A LESSON AS TO THE EXACTING NATURE OF DIVER RETRIBUTION. The hand was the hand of the Chaldean, but the judgment was the judgment of God. When men rebel against him, no human power or splendour can preserve them from his righteous indignation and just retribution.—T.

Lamentations 4:2

Precious sons...fine gold,…become earthen pitchers.

The prophet's appreciation of the proper dignity and value of his nation was naturally very exalted; in proportion were his sorrows and humiliation when his country rebelled against the Lord, and became, in consequence, a prey to the despised and hated foreigner. The reflections are applicable, not to Judah only, but to all the sinful and rebellious among men; for there is no escape from the action of the moral law, from the chastisement of the righteous Judge.

I. THE TRUE VALUE AND PROPER DIGNITY OF MAN. Comparable to "fine gold" in beauty, preciousness, and use, is our humanity when in the state designed by the Creator, free from the corroding rust of sin, and minted and stamped with the image and superscription of the Most High.

II. SIN INVOLVES CHASTISEMENT, AND CHASTISEMENT BRINGS DISGRACE. The striking contrast between gold, fine and solid, on the one hand, and "earthen pitchers" on the other hand, is a pictorial and effective representation of the change which took place in Judah. A holy nation, a kingdom of priests, the chosen of the Eternal, was reduced to the level of the poorest, meanest tribe vanquished and despoiled by an unsparing enemy. Here, as so often, the chosen nation was an emblem of humanity. For though man be by nature the sublimest of God's creatures, when he is abandoned to sin and all its consequences he sinks below the level of the brutes.

APPLICATION. Only Divine grace and power can restore the beauty and dignity of which sin has robbed humanity. The gospel of Christ transforms the earthen pitcher into the fine gold of the sanctuary.—T.

Lamentations 4:3-5

The horrors of famine.

A more graphic, a more terrible picture than this of the misery of a captured, starved, and desolated city, no pencil could paint. If the circumstances of the famine-stricken population of Jerusalem are portrayed with too literal a skill and with too sickening an effect, it must be borne in mind that the description is not that of an artist, but of a prophet, and that the aim is not merely to horrify, but to instruct, and especially to represent the frightful consequences involved in a nation's sin and apostasy.

I. PHYSICAL SUFFERINGS ARE DESCRIBED. If the condition of the wretched citizens be examined, they are seen to be afflicted with all physical evils, e.g. with hunger and want, with emaciation and feebleness of body, with homelessness, squalor, and filth, with pestilence and death.

II. MORAL DEGRADATION IS DENOUNCED. A siege, the sack of a city, have sometimes called out exalted self-sacrifice and heroism; but they have sometimes been the occasion of the bursting forth into flame of the vilest passions—of avarice, cruelty, selfishness, and lust. In this passage we observe an atrocious exhibition of selfish indifference to the pains and necessities of others, and especially a display of cruelty towards children which contrasts with the parental instincts and tenderness of the brutes. To so low a level does sin bring human nature.


1. In plenty and peace let men cherish gratitude.

2. Let those who are prosperous commiserate the famine-stricken and the victims of war.

3. Let generous provision be made for the wants of the destitute.—T.

Lamentations 4:12

The impregnable taken.

The natural position of Jerusalem was such as to mark it out for a stronghold, as to invite its possessors to fortify it and to deem themselves invincible. When David conquered it by daring and valour, he made it the metropolis of the nation. Succeeding king strengthened the walls and completed the fortifications, so that Jerusalem became one of the strongest fortresses of the ancient world. And at this time Nebuchadnezzar had only taken the city after a siege extending through a year and a half.


1. One such contrast was upon the surface and obvious to every eye. The mighty and apparently invincible was vanquished and desolated.

2. Another contrast was apparent to the mind of the observing and reflecting: the city favoured by God himself was abandoned, spoiled, and desolated. If Jehovah had not gone out of the gates, the Chaldeans could not have entered in.

3. The contrast was one universally amazing and astounding. "The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed it."

II. THE INSPIRED EXPLANATION OF THIS CONTRAST. It was not chance, it was not "the fortune of war," it was not the consequence of some political machinations, some military strategy, that the proud city of Zion fell into the hands of the foreign conqueror. Unfaithfulness and rebellion against God were the true explanation. The Lord only forsakes those who forsake him. All men, all nations, endure chastisement for sin. Blessed be God! in the midst of wrath he remembers mercy.—T.

Lamentations 4:13, Lamentations 4:14

The degradation of the prophets and the priests.

There is a somewhat obscure reference in this passage to some incidents which took place during and after the siege of Jerusalem. The book of Jeremiah's prophecies casts some light upon the language of his lamentations. It is evident that the offices of priest and prophet were vilely abused at this period of Judah's degradation, that the prophets prophesied in false and flattering words, that the priests burned incense to idols, that both professions were debased to selfish ends, and that both were accountable to a very large extent for the calamities of the nation. No wonder that prophets and priests became the objects of national detestation, that Jew and alien alike shunned and hated them.

I. THE NOBLEST OFFICES, WHEN MISUSED, BECOME THE GREATEST CURSE. The priests were "holy unto Jehovah;" the prophets were the commissioned ministers of the All-wise, and they spake his words to men. But when they retained their name, but lost the spirit and the moral authority attaching to their position, they misled and oppressed their countrymen. Alas for the nation whose leaders in Church and state are selfish and corrupt! they who should be an honour and a blessing become then a disgrace and a curse. Let the great and the consecrated take warning, and watch and pray.

II. WHEN SPIRITUAL AND INTELLECTUAL LEADERS ARE DEBASED THEIR INFLUENCE UPON A NATION IS MOST DELETERIOUS AND DISASTROUS. "Like priest, like people," says the old proverb. In modern communities it is observable that the journalists and the clergy have amazing power in giving a tone to public life. Where these are corrupt the very spring of a nation's life are poisoned; all classes are affected by the influences which are potent for harm as they had otherwise been for highest good.

III. THE UNFAITHFULNESS OF THE LEADERS BRINGS PENALTIES AND CALAMITIES UPON THE PEOPLE. The constitution of human society is such that one must needs suffer for another. As the sins of the prophets and the iniquities of the priests had no small share in bringing about the ruin of Jerusalem, so a corrupt literature and a selfish clergy will bring any nation, however powerful, into misery and contempt.—T.

Lamentations 4:17

Vain help and hope.

When Jerusalem was besieged by the Chaldeans its inhabitants seem to have looked for assistance from their Egyptian neighbours. This was a policy and an expectation displeasing to Jehovah, who ever taught his people to rely, not upon an arm of flesh, but upon the eternal King of righteousness. In verse the prophet pictures the attitude of the Jews as day after day they strained their weary eyes to catch some glimpse of an approaching deliverer. How striking a picture of the folly and vanity of those hopes which man fixes upon his fellow man!

I. THE DISTRESSED AND HARASSED NATURALLY HAVE RECOURSE TO HUMAN AID. As the Jews looked now to Assyria and again to Egypt for allies and helpers, so the children of men have recourse to human counsellors, philosophers, and saviours to deliver them from the perplexities and sorrows and fears to which human nature is always subject.

II. IT IS PROVIDENTIALLY APPOINTED THAT EXPERIENCE SHOULD CONVINCE MEN OF THE VANITY OF ALL HUMAN HELP. When application after application fails to bring relief, when hope after hope is disappointed, then, and perhaps not until then, men learn how vain is the help of man, and perceive the wisdom of the advice, "Put not your trust in man, or in the son of man, in whom is no help."

III. GOD INTENDS BY SUCH DISCIPLINARY EXPERIENCE TO DRAW HIS PEOPLE TO HIMSELF. When the eyes are dim and weary with looking earthward for deliverance, then they may be lifted heaven, ward. And when the help of man is sincerely acknowledged to be vain, then the help of God is at hand.—T.

Lamentations 4:18

The end is come!

The progress of the enemy's works, the approach of the enemy's forces, the frequency of the enemy's assaults, all tended to dishearten the citizens of the besieged Jerusalem. The prophet represents the discouraged and dismayed citizens as gazing with terror upon the assailants and their strategy, and exclaiming in despair, "Our end is come!" The dealing and the discipline of God with the souls of the disobedient and rebellious may well awaken the same conviction and elicit the same cry.

I. THE END OF OUR OWN RESOURCES. It is sometimes only when men have tried what is in their power, have done their best to solve their spiritual difficulties and to make their way secure, that, convinced of their own insufficiency, they admit themselves to be altogether in the wrong.

II. THE END OF OUR RESISTANCE TO OUR FOES. Men strive to carry on the conflict in their own strength, and they strive in vain. "Wearied in the greatness of their way," convinced that they are no match for the spiritual enemy, they may confess that, left to themselves, they cannot conquer, they cannot withstand.

III. THE END OF ALL OUR HOPES OF DELIVERANCE. Those hopes may have buoyed up for days and years; but when they have issued only in disappointment how can the discouraged do other than at last forever abandon them?

IV. THE END OF OUR REBELLION AGAINST GOD. If this be the effect produced by long experience of the wretchedness and the futility of such hostility, there will be reason for gratitude. They who lay down the weapons of rebellion shall receive mercy and experience deliverance.—T.


Lamentations 4:1, Lamentations 4:2

Fallen reputation.

I. THE WEIGHT OF THIS REPUTATION. The position of the people was comparable to gold in its glitter and attraction. Gold has its use and iron has its use, and we may be glad we have both; but if one of these two had to be given up, it would certainly be the gold. Iron means immensely more in modern civilization than gold. But if frequency of mention is to count for anything, gold was much more valued among the Israelites than iron, and being so, it had a large place in the symbolisms of the tabernacle service and in the splendours of Solomon's temple. Hence any one with a high reputation might very well be compared to gold. People run after such a one even as they do after gold. There is a time when the crowd are not contented to speak well of a man; they must praise him extravagantly, using the language of superlatives, and showing that their standard, if standard it can truly be called, is far from an ideal one.

II. THE CHARACTER OF THE REFUTATION. Had Israel ever been worthy of this comparison with fine gold? On what was the comparison based? It is to be feared that it rested very much on mere appearance. Remember the saying, "All that glitters is not gold." Jehovah had made Israel to glitter by taking it out from among the nations and making it the object of great demonstrations of his power. But, so to speak, this was only gilding over the impure and incoherent mass of common humanity with a coating of pure gold for a certain purpose. The men and women who made up Israel were at heart like men and women elsewhere. But by giving them a certain outward splendour God furnished a symbol of that true golden nation which is made up from individual believers in him.

III. THE DESTRUCTION OF THE REPUTATION. The gold becomes dim. The comparison was once to gold out of which vessels for honour are made, beautifully shaped and decorated. But now the comparison is to the common clay out of which the potter makes his cheap and fragile ware. And yet, after all, if gold be a standard of preciousness, these sons of Zion were indeed comparable to it; only the gold is in the unpurified state, mixed very intimately with baser elements that take away the use and glory of the gold. Man in his best natural state may have his reputation lifted too high; in his worst natural state that reputation may sink too low; but when God takes the natural man in hand and renews, purifies, and disciplines him, then it will be seen that the most splendid and pleasing of visible objects is only a feeble hint of that glory wherewith God has chosen to glorify his own children.—Y.

Lamentations 4:3, Lamentations 4:4

Natural affection gone.

I. NOTE AN UNFAVORABLE CONTRAST WITH THE LOWER CREATION. Everything is to be estimated according to its nature. It matters little what the seamonster here stands for. It is sufficient to know that some fierce destructive creature is thought of. Truly there is a vast difference between the brutes whose very nature it is to destroy in order that they may live, and man who never looks more worthy of his position in the scale of being than when he is doing his very best to preserve life, risking even his own life for this end. And yet even in the most savage brutes there is natural affection. To stoop to a very common sight, what is more suggestive of some of the deep mysteries of existence than to see a cat one moment patiently suckling its own young, and the next moment stealthily and silently making its way to spring on some defenceless bird? If, then, it is put into the nature of these fierce creatures thus to care for their young, what care is it not right to expect from man, the highest creature whom we know? There is hardly any limit to what he can do for his offspring in the way of guarding its weakness and developing its power; and yet how negligent he can become! The lower creation puts him to shame. Jeremiah here speaks of cruelty, but we do well to remember that there is a thoughtlessness, an indolence, and a selfishness which are productive of as bad effects as any cruelty can produce. More evil, it has been truly said, is wrought from want of thought than from want of heart.

II. WHAT IT IS THAT PRODUCES THIS CONTRADICTION TO NATURE? Generally stated, it is the stress of circumstances that does it. "The daughter of my people" would not have become cruel if her life had gone on in its ordinary way. But all at once the supplies that have been so regular become uncertain, and at last virtually stop. The cruelty, if in such circumstances it may be truly called so, is an involuntary one. And yet it is not involuntary in this sense, that the state of things was altogether unpreventable. The famine came from disobedience to God. We are not left to make a superstitious inference as to this connection. It is stated on authority. It were presuming far too much to trace a connection between particular suffering and particular wrong doing, but where the connection between particular wrong doing and particular suffering is made perfectly plain, we shall be very foolish if we do not take heed to it. Whatever wrong thing we do will have some evil consequences, and we know not hew soon they may come, how widely they may spread, and how much suffering and difficulty they may bring to the innocent.—Y.

Lamentations 4:5

Social revolution.

I. AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE INSTABILITY OF HUMAN SOCIETY. We may consider it either as the instability of wealth or the instability of rank. It shows how no class of the community is able to say that, whatever happens in the way of stress or destitution, it will keep right. Men build up societies in which rank comes from the accumulation of wealth or the exercise of power that is in a man by nature. But these human societies thus built up cannot reckon on permanence. Greed is excited on the part of others, and the higher a man has risen the lower he may fall.

II. THE ILLUSTRATION HERE SHOULD MAKE US CONSIDERATE OF THOSE IN HIGH POSITION. The high are of necessity the few. Their position is seen from the outside and from a distance. What we do see is very likely to mislead us, for our eye lights on outward splendour and the appearance of much leisure and the ability to do very much what one likes. But the many journals and memoirs that have been published revealing the inner life of courts and titled circles show that human beings may be none the less miserable because the misery is gilded over. Our pity may be needed at any moment for the man of rank and privilege. Whatever the outward differences may be, the inward heart is the same, and that must have its sorrows, its disappointments, and its perils.

III. WE ARE TAUGHT THE NEED OF CAUTION IN GLORIFYING HUMAN CIVILIZATION. What many people reckon to be the highest civilization needs material wealth in great profusion to keep it up. There must be classes to paint pictures, carve statuary, and give long periods of time to the elaboration of artistic conceptions, whatever they may be. And what a satire on all this it is to recollect how fragile and fading some of these art treasures have proved! The ignorant and narrow minded undervalue these things, but then it is also possible to over value them, to get so occupied with them as to forget the deepest things of humanity, the things that endure. The civilized, refined, natural man may be good, but how much better is the spiritual man, even though he be rude in speech and full of error in his tastes! Truly we may say, he that is least among spiritual men is greater than the highest of attainments among natural men.—Y.

Lamentations 4:6

The sin of Sodom.

God was doing nothing new or indefensible in allowing Jerusalem thus to be wasted and humiliated. The Israelites had in their possession illustrations more than one of how great sin had been followed by great suffering. Jeremiah quotes Sodom, and he might have said something about Egypt when God visited it with the plagues. We must not, of course, press too literally the statement that the sin of Jerusalem was greater than that of Sodom. The prophet's aim is simply to insist that no sin could have been greater than that of Jerusalem. If it was a right and a necessary thing that Sodom should be so suddenly visited, so completely overwhelmed, then assuredly no complaint could be made against the severe treatment experienced by Jerusalem. Indeed, relatively, Jerusalem might think itself very well off. If the height on which Jerusalem stood had sunk in another Dead Sea, there would have been no ground for complaint. No impartial Israelite, looking at the privileges of Israel, considering how much it had been instructed and warned, and how patiently it had been dealt with, could do anything but confess that on the whole it had been mildly visited. We must, however, be careful here not to attribute anything arbitrary to God. We shall naturally be very much perplexed if we allow ourselves to think that, though Sodom's sin was less than Jerusalem's, yet it received a greater punishment. It is only by a figure that we talk of communities being punished. Punishment is strictly an individual thing. Communities may suffer, and the suffering will be according to the needs of God's government at the time. The cities of the plain were utterly swept away, that the rest of the world might not become as bad as they were. These visitations have to be looked on somewhat in the light of surgical operations. One patient in the hospital needs to have a limb amputated that the whole body may be saved. Another can have his body saved without the loss of a part of it.—Y.

Lamentations 4:9

Sword and hunger.

I. WORSE THINGS THAN WAR. Better, says the prophet, to be swiftly slain in battle than have the slow and gnawing death of hunger. None worthy the name of Christian can but appreciate and admire the zeal, devotion, and self-abnegation of those who toil incessantly in the things that make for peace. War is so dreadful an evil that hardly too strong things can be said against it. And one of the strong things said is with respect to the immense suffering produced by war. Yet after all there is a great deal that deceives imagination here. Suffering is crowded into a small space, and puts on a horrible aspect, and thus it looks huger than it is, and so when we are appalled at the continuance in the world of great wars full of carnage, we shall do well to recollect that war is by no means the worst of things so far as power of inflicting suffering is concerned. Evidently the prophet saw starvation as a more horrible thing than war. It may, of course, be said the war was the cause of the famine, and very likely it was, but then, what was the cause of the war? Good men in their enthusiasm come in with all sorts of ready remedies for great evils, not sufficiently considering how one evil is connected with another, and how the stopping up of one channel may only fill other channels all the more. Who can dry up the fountain of all evil?—that is the question.

II. THE DREADFUL ACCOMPANIMENTS OF FAMINE. IS there anything worse than the carnage of a battlefield? Yes; the pangs of a multitude slowly dying of starvation, There is death from disease, death from decay, death of the strong man in full health from violence; but worse than any surely is this slow torment of hunger. What an instance of the rigid way in which law binds us down, unless there be some Divine reason for interfering with the operations perceptible to us! He who intervened to feed the five thousand and the four thousand could have intervened to keep these wretched women from laying their hands on their own children for food. What necessity was there in the one case which there was not in the other? Some there must have been, though we may fail to grasp it as a whole. Doubtless if we could only see clearly it would then become manifest that there is no lack in the giving of food, but that it is we who lack wisdom in developing and distributing what is given.—Y.

Lamentations 4:12

A seeming impossibility achieved.

I. THE VALUE OF A REPUTATION. Jerusalem had a far spread reputation for security. It was a reputation, too, which prevailed among those with whom it was desirable it should prevail, namely, the kings of the earth. A reputation for security is to a certain extent an element in security, and what we have to do is to let it have its just value. For instance, in a world where solicitations to evil abound it is well if those who have all the inclination to tempt us nevertheless say in their hearts that we are beyond such temptations, and therefore it would be mere waste of time to attack us. Jerusalem had probably escaped many sieges through this far-spread feeling.

II. THE CAUSES OF THIS REPUTATION. Here is the value of history. A tradition springs up that Jerusalem is impregnable. Failures in attacking it are contrasted with successes in attacking other places. It is not that any particular invader fails, but different nations and different commanders. Furthermore, the people of Jerusalem come to accept what seems an unquestionable privilege. If it has come to be a foregone conclusion among their enemies that their city is impregnable, how much more may they themselves rest in such a conclusion! But what had made this conclusion possible? Was it the position of Jerusalem? No doubt this counted for something, for other walled places beside Jerusalem have had the reputation of being able to defy all attack. The great thing, however, was the purpose of God that Jerusalem should stand against its enemies. To him must be laid the origin of this wide and deep feeling. He who had been as a shield to the individual warrior became as a high and fenced wall to the city. Jerusalem is the contrast to Jericho. Well defended Jericho can be made to fall without any visible force, and Jerusalem can be made to stand against the most furious accumulations of the heathen.

III. THE WORTHLESSNESS OF MERE REPUTATION. Reputation by itself is always to Be looked upon with caution. If we would have reputation to be a valuable element in judgment, it must be by asking in whose voice the reputation lies. The voice of the multitude, the voice that takes up a cry and as it were transmits an echo, what is it worth? The people of Jerusalem had come to rest in the comfortable feeling that their city was reckoned impregnable. Do not let our safety rest in what other people think about us. If our safety is not of God, if it does not rest in trusting him and obeying him, then sooner or later that will happen to us in our life which happened to Jerusalem. The walls of our life will be broken down, our most precious treasures taken away, our hearts made desolate.—Y.

Lamentations 4:13

Shedding the blood of the just.


I. THE THING THAT IS DONE. It is not merely that life is taken away; nor is it even that murder is committed. It would be bad enough if even the most wicked of men were maliciously slain—slain, not because of his wickedness, but because of some evil motive on the part of the slayer. But here those who are slain are just men, and slain because they are just. All they needed in order to live on was to fall in with prevailing and popular iniquities. Instead of this, they set their faces against the multitude that are doing evil. They must, as a matter of necessity to their own consciences, say and do things which are a continual exasperation to the wicked. They do not mean to exasperate, they may be in the spirit of their life most meek, gentle, and unaffected; but all this will avail nothing—the wicked are bound to pick a quarrel with them, even as the wolf in the fable picked a quarrel with the lamb. And let it be observed that shedding the blood of the just is only the climax of the persecuting treatment which the just must be ready to experience. The wicked are often quite willing to stop short of the climax if they can gain their ends by something less. Not all at once do they proceed to the shedding of blood. It is well for those who, if they be indeed Christians, are assuredly to be reckoned among the just to remember what they have to number among the possibilities of their endeavour to live a truly righteous life. No mere human civilization will ever secure the just man from the risk of having to lose his life for his righteousness.

II. THOSE WHO DO IT. Once again, as so often, the prophet and priest stand forth in a shameful revelation. Their life is so contrary to their office. The prophet whose force should have come from the strong righteousness of his heart within and be directed straight against all evil doers, is found ranging himself with the wicked and making evil put on the semblance of good. And as for the priest, he does holy things with his hands and offers sacrifices for sin, while those whose lives are a continual protest against sin he hates and strives to slay. Not that we must reduce the prophet and the priest here spoken of to the level of vulgar murderers. Doubtless, in many instances, they persuaded themselves they were right and doing God service. Fanaticism and class feeling, where each one blows the flame of his neighbour's zeal, will urge men on to the greatest atrocities. There may be no danger, most likely there will be no opportunity, that we should go as far as these prophets and priests, but we need to guard against having their narrow spirits in our hearts. We may not shed the blood of the just, but nevertheless we may do much to hinder and trouble them.—Y.

Lamentations 4:20

A disappointed confidence and a desecrated sanctity.

There seems to be indicated in these words a great attachment to the kingly office and a great confidence in it. It is the same spirit continuing and probably intensified which caused the people ages before to demand a king. And is it not thus suggested to us what a deep feeling there is in the human heart to have some one individual to look up to as having rule over us? "The right Divine of kings" is a principle which more than once in history has been seen pushing itself to disastrous issues, but that is no reason for asserting that "the right Divine of kings" is an absurdity. It is only an absurdity when a weak fallible mortal holds himself, by virtue of his ancestry and kinship, to have little less than absolute control over multitudes of his fellow men. The question is not whether kingship is right, but who shall be the king. And especially does this need to be recollected among the changing forms of government so perceptible in modern times. Now that despotisms are tending to limited monarchies, and limited monarchies becoming more limited, and extensions being made of republican territory, it is more than ever important to insist on the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven. Not without deep reason does the proper government for man stand before us in the New Testament as a kingdom. The collective wisdom of mankind can only be at best a puzzling mixture of knowledge and ignorance, prudence and rashness. Blessed is he who feels that the real Anointed of the Lord is the proper Being to guide. Under his shadow we can live the true life in that safety of the spirit which is of far more moment than that mere external safety from the Gentiles, which counted for so much in the esteem of the Israelite of old. In no pits has the Lord Jesus Christ ever been taken.—Y.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Lamentations 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/lamentations-4.html. 1897.
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